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Rethinking ink

Augmented reality apps offer new views of tattoos.


For centuries, creating tattoos meant rubbing cuts with ashes, or pricking the skin and inserting dyes. Augmented reality (AR) is taking the art of tattoos a step further.


Thanks to advancements in AR technology—which adds a layer of graphics on top of the real-world surroundings you see—your smartphone can give you a temporary glimpse of what a tattoo would look like on your arm. Already have one? You can even convert your real tattoos into artistic showcases using videos, songs and more.


AR tattoos generated some buzz after Australian artist Stu Campbell (who goes by the name Sutu) published his comic book “Modern Polaxis” in 2014. The book, which follows a time traveler named Polaxis, bursts with color, movement and sound when viewed on a smartphone using a companion app. Sutu has a tattoo on his arm of one of the book’s panels depicting the Polaxis character. One day, he held his phone up over the inked image and viewed it through the book’s companion app. To his surprise, his tattoo came to life with blue and white spirals hovering over the character.


Beyond the cool factor, there’s also a more practical benefit when it comes to AR tattoos. If you’re thinking about getting ink but wonder what it would look like on your skin before you make the long-term commitment, AR apps like InkHunter (for iOS) let you get a painless preview.

Try before you buy

Here’s how it works. After drawing three lines on your skin, open InkHunter on your phone and select a graphic from the app’s gallery. Examples in the library include things like a skull, insect or intricate patterns, and you can even upload your own sketches.


Justin Norton, a tattoo artist in Boone, North Carolina, agrees that the app can be a useful tool for people considering getting a real one. “This app could be helpful for a lot of smaller tattoos,” Norton says.

Bringing your tattoo to life

Layar is another app that lets you create your own augmented reality experiences, which could potentially be applied to tattoos. Trigger videos, images and more while viewing your tattoo through a smartphone.


To use it, upload a photo of your tattoo to Layar Creator, then drag and drop interactive tools including music clips, video, photos and links. Once your creation is published, use the Layar app on your tattoo and watch it come to life on your smartphone.


Have a tattoo from a movie, or maybe a band’s artwork? Take a photo of that tattoo and upload a clip from the movie or a song from the artist to make your piece even more personal.




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